When I saw there was going to be a blogathon dedicated to the Master of Suspense, I knew it’d be impossible for me to pick just one film to cover. But being a bit of an Oscar obsessive, I decided on covering the films that earned him nominations for Best Director. While the Academy Awards honor the best of the year and overall favorites from multiple categories, more often than not they do seem to get it wrong when choosing the eventual winner. Sometimes it’s a matter of stiff competition, but other times their choices just don’t age well. Alfred Hitchcock is arguably the most well-regarded director of all time, but he never won a single competitive Oscar. With that said, let’s take a look at the films for which he was acknowledged by Oscar, and whom he was up against in those given years.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut came in 1940 with two films, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. Prior to his career move to Hollywood, he had been making films in Britain since the silent era. But with the one-two punch of his first American-made films, he immediately proved he wasn’t a director to be overlooked. Both Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent were huge successes and earned multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Rebecca even won the top prize of the night, but the director went home empty-handed.
In the early years of the Academy Awards, the Best Picture Oscar went to the studio, so the award ended up going to David O. Selznick. The film also won an Oscar for Best Black-and-White Cinematography (another category Foreign Correspondent was nominated in). Rebecca was also the first of two films the director made with Joan Fontaine, who won Best Actress the following year for their second collaboration Suspicion. She ended up becoming the only actor to win an Oscar under Hitchcock’s direction.
Hitchcock’s director competition at the 1941 Academy Awards: George Cukor for The Philadelphia Story, Sam Wood for Kitty Foyle, William Wyler for The Letter, and winner John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath. This was Ford’s second of his eventual four Oscar wins for Best Director, and he still holds the record as the director with the most Academy Awards.
Along with Best Director, Rebecca was nominated for eight other Oscars: Best Actor for Laurence Olivier, Best Actress for Joan Fontaine, Best Supporting Actress for Judith Anderson, Best Screenplay, Best Black-and-White Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects, and Best Original Score.
Some of Alfred Hitchcock’s most acclaimed films were ones where the characters were primarily confined to one room or setting. In this case, they were all stuck on one small boat floating above a vast ocean space. Based on a story by John Steinbeck, Lifeboat was the first of Hitchcock’s “limited-setting” films, the others being Rope, Dial M for Murder, and Rear Window. While the film’s setting sounds like an uninspiring set-up, Lifeboat turned out to be a cleverly put-together production under Hitchcock’s direction. Of all his Oscar nominations, the work he did on this film is arguably the most underrated, but it proved just how masterful his skills were as a director to create such thick tension in a small space and leave audiences at the edge of their seats.
Hitchcock’s director competition at the 1945 Academy Awards: Henry King for Wilson, Otto Preminger for Laura, Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity, and winner Leo McCarey for Going My Way. McCarey previously won the Best Director Oscar for the acclaimed screwball comedy The Awful Truth.
Along with Best Director, Lifeboat was nominated for two other Oscars: Best Original Story, and Best Black-and-White Cinematography.
Just a year after his nomination for Lifeboat, Alfred Hitchcock received another won for Spellbound. Like Rebecca, it was also nominated for Best Picture, but unlike the 1940 film, it didn’t win the top prize of the night. The film did win one Oscar for Best Score. Spellbound was the first of three films Hitchcock made with Ingrid Bergman, one of his favorite actresses to work with. This was also his first of two films with Gregory Peck, with the other film being The Paradine Case. Unlike Hitchcock’s four other Oscar nominations, Spellbound is more romantic than suspenseful, but still incorporates a lot of the psychological elements that the director was always fascinated by.
Hitchcock’s director competition at the 1946 Academy Awards: Clarence Brown for National Velvet, Leo McCarey for The Bells of St. Mary’s, Jean Renoir for The Southerner, and winner Billy Wilder for The Lost Weekend. The famous writer-director only won one other Best Director Oscar (more on that later), as he was more often recognized for his screenplays, and he went on to win three Oscars total for his writing, including one for The Lost Weekend.
Along with Best Director, Spellbound was nominated for four other Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Michael Chekhov, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Special Effects.
The year 1954 was another good year for Alfred Hitchcock that saw two of his most popular films released: Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. Both films were also his first collaborations with his most famous blonde muse, Grace Kelly (who, unlike Hitchcock, didn’t leave the 1955 Oscar ceremony empty-handed with her Best Actress win for The Country Girl). The two would only work together one more time the following year for the French Riviera-set caper To Catch a Thief with Hitchcock’s favorite actor Cary Grant.
Like his previous Oscar-nominated work in Lifeboat, Rear Window was another film that saw the characters confined to one setting, that of one man’s apartment. While Grant was Hitchcock’s favorite actor to work with (the two made four films together), his other great collaboration came with James Stewart (whom he also made four films with). Rear Window is one of the director’s most acclaimed films and is as popular today among classic film fans and modern audiences as it was back in the day.
Hitchcock’s director competition at the 1955 Academy Awards: George Seaton for The Country Girl, William A. Wellman for The High and the Mighty, Billy Wilder for Sabrina, and winner Elia Kazan for On the Waterfront. Kazan previously won the Best Director Oscar for Gentleman’s Agreement, which like On the Waterfront, also won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Along with Best Director, Rear Window was nominated for three other Oscars: Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, and Best Sound Recording.
Sometimes when artists are recognized at the Academy Awards, it isn’t the best work of their careers that gets nominated. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for Hitchcock, as his most acclaimed film did earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. Twenty years after his first Oscar nomination for Rebecca, his nomination for Psycho ended up becoming his last, but it’s not at all a bad note to end on. He continued to director films into the mid-1970s, including The Birds three years after Psycho.
Being a particular meticulous director throughout the three stages of a film’s production, Hitchcock spent even more time developing this film than he did on any other film in his career, and it shows. Psycho incorporates many of the elements a classic Hitchcock film is known for, and is perhaps his most influential film, having inspired countless movies in the horror and thriller genres since its release.
Hitchcock’s director competition at the 1961 Academy Awards: Jack Cardiff for Sons and Lovers, Jules Dassin for Never on Sunday, Fred Zinnemann for The Sundowners, and winner Billy Wilder for The Apartment. Along with Best Director, Wilder won two other Oscars that night for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
To me, this was Hitchcock’s toughest competition as both Psycho and The Apartment are completely different films but equally excellent in their direction (and are overall amazing movies). Hitchcock had great respect for Wilder as a director, whom he was nominated against three times (losing twice to him). He praised him on a number of occasions: upon Double Indemnity‘s release, Hitchcock took out ads saying “The two most important words in movies today are ‘Billy Wilder’!”, and after seeing The Apartment, he sent Wilder a letter praising the film (which you can read here).
Along with Best Director, Psycho was nominated for three other Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Following his final Oscar nomination for Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock received a special honor for his overall work at the 1968 Academy Awards, where he was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He gave a memorably short speech upon receiving the award, which you can watch here.
While it’s always nice to win an Oscar, it’s not the end-all mark of a great filmmaker, and that couldn’t be more true for Hitchcock. Along with the five films in which he was nominated for Best Director, he made so many classics that are still thrilling to watch today, such as Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train, just to name a few.
I wrote this entry as a part of The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon 2016, where bloggers are writing about films from the Master of Suspense. Click the banner below to read more fantastic posts!